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The Vegan Experience Day 12: This Is What Happens When I'm Too Busy To Cook

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[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Note: For the four weeks between January 14th and February 11th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!

Day 12: Wednesday

Breakfast: None (per doctor's orders)
Lunch: A half falafel sandwich with a ton of salad from Maoz
Dinner: Smoked eggplant puree with an herb salad on bruschetta and crispy orechiette with scallions, olives, and grape tomatoes from Balaboosta

It finally happened. The first major downside I've discovered about being vegan. Here's how it went down.

A couple nights ago, I realized we were running short of leftovers in my fridge. Eh, I thought, no big deal, I'll grab a sandwich from Maoz for lunch and I have a dinner appointment already at Balaboosta. I'll just cook a few things tomorrow and we'll be fine for the rest of the week.

Yesterday morning I gave a quart of coconut-lentil soup to my mom for her and my grandfather to eat for dinner, as promised. My wife took the last of the leftover stir-fried bok choy and chow fun for lunch, which completely depleted my fridge of everything save raw ingredients. After a long day of various doctor's visits (myself, my mom, and my dog, all on the same day) and meeting after ever-so-interesting meeting, I finally got home around 10:30 pm, completely exhausted. My wife had eaten an omelet for dinner last night.

Too tired to bother cooking food for the next day, I resolved myself to another couple meals of eating out. What I didn't count on was having a second crazy-day in a row. After having a slice of toast and some avocado for breakfast, I was so swamped all morning that I didn't realize until 2:20 in the afternoon that I hadn't eaten all day. With another meeting starting at 2:30, I had mere moments to figure out some way to fill my belly.

I ran around the corner to Golden Steamer thinking I'd order a steamed pumpkin bun before I realized that while Chinese bao dough is often made with shortening, it can also be made with lard. So which does Golden Steamer use? Either the nice lady who runs the place doesn't know, or more likely, she didn't understand my question or why I'd even care.

With minutes to go and another long, dark meeting ahead of me, I did the unthinkable: I pulled out a pre-fab frozen vegan pizza from the fridge, tossed it in the toaster oven, and—gulp—ate it.

The product was kindly sent by the producer as a sample after they read about my Vegan Experience, so I don't want to name brands here, but judging by the various reviews I've seen on vegan blogs online, these pies are in the upper echelon of the frozen vegan pizza pile.

I gave Robyn a bite. Here's what she thought:

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They were miserable. Truly and utterly terrible, tasting of nothing but dried oregano, tomato paste, and tears. A crust with the texture of, as Erin put it, dense mashed potatoes, combined with a completely non-existent hole structure (did I mention it was gluten free as well?)

In place of cheese was some sort of white product (again doused with dried oregano) that browned fine but completely failed to melt. It was everything pizza is not supposed to be, and everything that I hate about faux products. As a professional pizza enthusiast, I'm ashamed to admit that I finished it off—that's how hungry I was. All that it left me with was a full stomach and a deep, dark, sense of shame.

I came up with all kinds of excuses in my own head. But I was hungry! Or it looks like pizza, and all pizza has some redeeming characterstics, right? But the fact of the matter was this: I'd been lazy, I'd planned badly, and this is the price I had to pay for it.

Now I know some people really do like the taste of vegan pizzas, tofu dogs, and the like. If you're into frozen vegan pizza, you'd probably love these ones. I have no (faux) beef with you. Taste is, after all, a matter of opinion. At the same time, I know that there are others amongst the vegan/vegetarian crew that are with me here: faux products have no reason to exist.

In some ways, this experience can be seen as one of the truly negative sides of veganism. As an omnivore, you can find any number of tasty fast foods and snacks no matter where you are (though of course, tasty is not the same thing as healthy or good). As a vegan, your options are severely limited—you're bound to end up eating something like this frozen fake pizza at some point in your diet. That kind of stinks.

But I see a good side to this: I can guarantee you that I'm never going to be lazy about cooking or planning my meals again. Too tired at 10:30 p.m.? Too bad. Better to do a bit of extra work when you're tired and earn your lunch. I think any incentive to get you into the kitchen and cooking or to get you to give your lunch more thought and make better choices is a good one. It's a lesson I can take even after I return to omnivorism.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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